Formula 1: The Club of the 40s: Battle for the cockpits

Formula 1 The Club of the 40s: Battle for the cockpits

Ready for the Chinese Grand Prix: Formula 1 drivers among themselves. photo

© Andy Wong/AP

The Formula 1 transfer market window has been open for a while. There is no deadline, but there are many interested parties for a few cockpits. The only German also wants to continue – possibly until he’s 40.

Nico Hülkenberg can also imagine joining Formula 1’s club of 40 pretty well.

“It’s always difficult to predict how long you want to do something. But a few more years, until you’re 40, it’s not that far away,” said the native Rhinelander at the official press conference for the Chinese Grand Prix, which was also a became a bit of a meeting of generations.

Fernando Alonso made himself comfortable next to Hülkenberg, who will turn 37 in August. According to his new contract, the 2005 and 2006 world champion will also celebrate his 45th birthday as a Formula 1 driver in July 2026.

Sitting next to Alonso was the 24-year-old Chinese Guanyu Zhou, who two decades ago, as a little boy and Alonso fan, was so fascinated by the premier class of motorsport at the Shanghai International Circuit that he wanted to become one of them too.

Hamilton: Such a crazy trip

The problem now is that they all want to move on. Alonso has already secured his future, as has record world champion Lewis Hamilton, who will compete for Ferrari next season at the age of 40 and has to be a little amazed at himself. “It’s such a crazy trip,” said the still Mercedes driver: “I still feel young.”

However, this should be put into perspective when looking at 17-year-old Kimi Antonelli, who was allowed to test the Formula 1 Mercedes from the 2021 season in Spielberg, Austria this week. The Italian teenager is considered a great talent and a possible contender for Hamilton’s vacant place at the Silver Arrows.

Demand exceeds supply

A total of 20 cockpits are available. According to reports, half of them have not yet been reassigned for next year. In other words: The contracts of ten drivers expire after this season and the affected pilots do not yet have any new ones.

Hülkenberg is one of them. “It’s an interesting situation,” he said in the paddock in Shanghai: “The driver market is very dynamic, and the drivers without a contract have a lot to do and have to have a lot of discussions, explore their options – and try to nail down their future. That’s true for me too.”

In 2010 he entered Formula 1, the following year he was only a reserve driver, then rose again to regular driver and, after retiring at the end of 2019, returned to the cockpit as a substitute in 2022 after various temporary trips when he took over from Mick Schumacher at Haas got. He is also driving for the US team this season.

What about Hülkenberg and Audi?

A move to one of the big teams in the racing series never came to fruition, although Hülkenberg had already set a promising course with successes and titles such as winning the then GP2 championship before his Formula 1 start. Ultimately, he and his teams didn’t even make it onto the podium in Formula 1 in over 200 Grand Prix starts.

Hülkenberg’s qualities are nevertheless recognized in the premier class. There is therefore always speculation about a commitment to the designated Audi works team, which is scheduled to compete from 2026. Hülkenberg will be 39 years old that year. And here Hülkenberg meets Zhou again. The Chinese currently has one of the two places at Kick Sauber, the team that is taking over Audi. The other belongs to the 34-year-old Finn Valtteri Bottas.

There could possibly be another pairing next year. According to Red Bull’s motorsport consultant Helmut Marko, Carlos Sainz has “a very lucrative offer from Audi” that “we cannot match or beat,” as the 80-year-old told the “Kleine Zeitung” from Austria in an interview.

Red Bull is also interested in Sainz, who will have to give up his place at Ferrari for Hamilton after this season, at least Marko confirmed talks with the 29-year-old Spaniard. Talk, drive, talk. Whether young, whether a little older – that’s how it continues this season.

dpa

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